Library looks to future, and past

Link: A proposal to replace the Miller branch with a much larger facility is at the heart of a possible collaboration with the county historical society.

March 11, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Howard County's annual wish list, otherwise known as the capital budget, has been compiled by department heads who now must wait for the final verdict on whether certain roads will be improved, vehicles purchased and a myriad of other projects are given the green light for next year.

No one perhaps is waiting more anxiously than Valerie J. Gross, director of the library system, who is proposing to replace the Charles E. Miller library, the county's first permanent one, with a facility almost four times larger.

The project, though, would entail far more than brick and mortar. Indeed, it is the cornerstone to a possible federation between the library and the county's historical society to greatly expand knowledge of and access to the county's past.

Such a union, officials believe, would be a first in the nation.

Discussions between the two parties have been under way for two years, and a decision is expected soon, particularly if approval is given to the proposal to replace the Miller branch with an 82,000-square- foot library.

The estimated cost is $28.7 million, but in addition to building the library, the money would finance converting the Miller branch into an administrative center for the library system and permit the expansion of the east Columbia branch on Cradlerock Way, where most of the staff is located.

For now, the wait is for the first $5.79 million - for design - which is included in a proposed $137 million countywide capital budget for next fiscal year.

County Executive James N. Robey has until April 1 to submit his capital budget, which then will be subject to deliberations by the County Council, probably the next month.

Two 10-acre sites are under consideration for the new library: land adjacent to the Miller branch on Frederick Road in Ellicott City; and in Turf Valley, the upscale residential, commercial and resort development on the fringe of the town.

Negotiations are under way with the owners of the properties for donations of land - Louis Mangione and his family, owners of Turf Valley, and Paul Miller and his family.

A link between the library and historical society would benefit the two operations and the public, said Gross, particularly because a history center is a key element planned for the proposed library.

Joining forces would "leverage funding," she said.

"It opens up access to their executive director, their volunteers [and] capitalizes on the expertise of the historical society ... ," Gross said. "To have the entire historical collection readily available is ideal. The possibilities are endless with regard to the schools' needing to study Howard County history and Maryland history."

Discussions about an alliance were initiated about two years ago, when Gross learned that the historical society wanted to move from its offices, which are near the county courthouse and provide no parking, poor accessibility and outdated storage for its records.

"The historical society is looking for a larger facility," Gross said. "It's an opportune time for us to be looking at creative partnership with them. They are committed to working out a mutually beneficial arrangement with the library."

If the deal materializes, the historical society would take 5,000 square feet on the second floor of the new library.

While both would remain independent, they would work closely together, Gross said.

Such an alliance, she said, would be unique. Eighteen months ago, when Gross mentioned the idea at a conference, it was greeted enthusiastically.

"The feedback was, `Tell us how this goes. Write about this,'" Gross said. "They said, `We envy the opportunity that you have to capitalize on the rich collection that could become so readily available to everyone in Howard County.'"

The library system has become taxed as the public uses the branches in record numbers. In the past four years, visits to the libraries soared 125 percent, from 934,000 to 2.1 million.

None is squeezed more than the Miller branch. It was built in 1962 and expanded to 23,000 square feet in 1986. Today, the library is too small to easily accommodate the public or the volumes of books that are crammed on shelves, Gross said.

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